Pretty much, if I were reincarnated as an awesome doggy. Rockstar lifestyle over here, let me tell ya.
At the beginning of the February Book Mini-Challenge, I set the rather lofty goal of 8 books for the month. By Valentine’s Day, the mid-point of the month, I was killin’ it! Well into the pages of my fifth book, I was ahead of schedule to knock out this challenge with ease — especially given my devious plan to sneak in a book under 200 pages as #7 or #8.
Alas, real life (or, more accurately, the surreal version of it that sporadically punctuates my existence) meant that I needed to focus my attention on alternately relishing in and overcoming the kinds of things you’d expect to find in the Fiction section of the library, rather than on absorbing myself in the written words of others, during February’s final two weeks.
So I finished February having logged 6 books for the month; not my goal, but not bad either. Knowing that two epic 500+ page books, as well as a few more intense math- and philosophy-oriented tomes that will require deeper concentration than the pop science stuff I also enjoy, are in the queue, my next reading mini-challenge is 6 books for the month of March. Until then, consider picking up one or more of the books I enjoyed in February:
1. Benjamin Bergen - Louder Than Words: The New Science of How the Mind Makes Meaning
- General Subjects: linguistics, neuroscience
- Pages: 312 pages
- Quick Quote: “Meaning, according to the embodied simulation hypothesis, isn’t just abstract mental symbols; it’s a creative process, in which people construct virtual experiences – embodied simulations – in their mind’s eye. ¶ If this is right, then meaning is something totally different from the definitional model we started with. If meaning is based on experience with the world – the specific actions and precepts an individual has had – then it may vary from individual to individual and from culture to culture. And meaning will also be deeply personal – what polar bear or dog means to me might be totally different from what it means to you. Moreover, if we use our brain systems for perception and action to understand, then the processes of meaning are dynamic and constructive. It’s not about activating the right symbol; it’s about dynamically constructing the right mental experience of the scene.” (p. 16)
2. Chuck Klosterman - I Wear the Black Hat: Grappling with Villains (Real and Imagined)
- General Subjects: pop culture, humor
- Pages: 224 pages
- Quick Quote: “[Andrew Dice Clay] wasn’t totally invested in that character (like [Andy] Kaufman), nor was he irrefutably pretending (like Stephen Colbert). If he had taken the former route, people would’ve said, “This routine is disturbing, but at least it’s real.” If he’d taken the latter route, he would have been seen as a satirist commenting on the entrenched hypocrisies of human sexuality. But Dice ended up splitting the difference, and that never works over the long haul. He was generating a persona that seemed exactly like the person he actually was, but still arguing that the Real Andrew Clay Silverstein was somehow separate (and that he could always tell the difference, even when no one else could). It was like he was choosing to become the worst idealized version of himself, without taking responsibility for what that implied. As such, he’ll never get credit for being dangerously authentic or secretly insightful.” (p. 80-81)
3. Noson Yanofsky - The Outer Limits of Reason: What Science, Mathematics, and Logic Cannot Tell Us
- General Subjects: physics, mathematics, logic
- Pages: 424 pages
- Quick Quote: “To me, the most interesting versions of the multiverse are a consequence of some of the ideas… of quantum mechanics. One of the main ideas was that a property of an object is in a superposition of values until it is observed by a conscious being, and then it collapses to a single value. John Wheeler applies this concept to the entire universe. When the universes came into being, there were no human observers and so everything that existed was in a hazy superposition of values. But rather than thinking of this as a hazy superposition, think of it as a form of multiverse within our universe. Objects had many possible values in our single universe…. This theory goes on to say that one of the many possible superpositions developed a complicated life or consciousness with the capacity to observe the surrounding universe…. This observation… collapsed the entire superposition into the one universe we know and love. The superposition that brought along consciousness caused the superposition to collapse. This theory is called the participatory anthropic principle.” (p. 285)
4. Nicholas Carr - The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains
- General Subjects: Neuropsychology, technology
- Pages: 280 pages
- Quick Quote: “Imagine filling a bathtub with a thimble; that’s the challenge involved in transferring information from working memory into long-term memory. By regulating the velocity and intensity of information flow, media exert a strong influence on this process. When we read a book, the information faucet provides a steady drip, which we can control by the pace of our reading. Through our single-minded concentration on the text, we can transfer all or most of the information, thimbleful by thimbleful, into long-term memory and forge the rich associations essential to the creation of schemas. With the Net, we face many information faucets, all going full blast. Our little thimble overflows as we rush from one faucet to the next. We’re able to transfer only a small portion of the information to long-term memory, and what we do transfer is a jumble of drops from different faucets, not a continuous, coherent stream from one source.” (p. 124-25)
5. V.S. Ramachandran - The Tell-Tale Brain: A Neuroscientist’s Quest for What Makes Us Human
- General Subjects: neuroscience
- Pages: 384 pages
- Quick Quote: “By trial and error, intuition or genius, human artists like Picasso or Henry Moore have discovered the human brain’s equivalent of the seagull brain’s stick with three stripes [a cool experiment described in detail earlier in the chapter]. They are tapping into the figural primitives of our perceptual grammar and creating ultranormal stimuli that more powerfully excite certain visual neurons in our brains as opposed to realistic-looking images. This is the essence of abstract art…. ¶ This principle of ultranormal stimuli may be relevant not just to art but to other quirks of aesthetic preference as well, like whom you are attracted to. Each of us carries templates for members of the opposite sex… and maybe those whom you find inexplicably and disproportionately attractive later in life are ultranormal versions of these early prototypes. So the next time you are unaccountably – even perversely – attracted to someone who is not beautiful in any obvious sense, don’t jump to the conclusion that it’s just pheromones or “the right chemistry.” Consider the possibility that she (or he) is an ultranormal version of the gender you’re attracted to buried deep in your unconscious.” (p. 212-13)
6. John Powell - How Music Works: The Science and Psychology of Beautiful Sounds, from Beethoven to the Beatles and Beyond
- General Subjects: music theory, science of music
- Pages: 272 pages
- Quick Quote: “The fact that we only choose to use seven different notes at a time [the major and minor keys, described in the preceding paragraphs] fits in well with research carried out in the 1950s by the American psychologist George A. Miller, who studied the capacity of our short-term memories. After testing people on their ability to remember sequences of numbers, letters, and tones, he came to the conclusion that the limit of our short-term memory is about seven items. This limit of approximately seven is also common in other musical cultures. Indian musicians, for example, divide the octave up into twenty-two steps, but they also choose a group of seven notes to be the basis of any particular piece. (Indian musicians also have access to groups of secondary notes associated with their basic group of seven – as we shall see, Western music doesn’t use secondary notes because they would interfere with the harmonies we use.)” (p. 120)
So, the February book challenge is wrapped up and the March book challenge is moving forward, plus we’ve got our Prog Rock album challenge and an unofficial drumming challenge to tackle this month, plus plotting for an art-related challenge next month and a new philosophy blog (well, it’ll just be a tumblr blog, but lots of original content!) that’s almost ready to launch. Refuse to stagnate!